Saturday, March 31, 2012

Learning All Around Us

     Over spring break my wife was going for her daily run and when she arrived home she described a mysterious, orange fungus-plant that she had seen.  Knowing that my ten-year old loves that sort of thing we piled into the car to go take a look.  We captured the strange plant in an empty soda cup for further inspection.
     We returned home and placed the plant in the back yard, and then my son disappeared for a while while I did chores in the yard.  He returned forty-five minutes later with a full page of notes he had written from the internet and announced proudly, "It's a slime-mold!  Let's take a picture and send it to Mr. Holden (his science teacher)."  We sent the photo to Mr. Holden along with his hypothesis.  A very short time later Mr. Holden replied with an equally excited email to announce that Cooper was indeed correct and suggested that he bring it in on Monday for a closer peek under the microscope.
     This fairly brief event really got me thinking about the conditions that occurred for a child, on his day off, to take the amount of time that he took to be inquisitive and educate himself on something that is clearly not a part of the formal curriculum.
     First, having parents and other charismatic adults in a child life to inspire and share enthusiasm and curiosity is critical.  If my wife had not been so excited for Cooper about the strange mold, I'm not sure he would have shared her enthusiasm, and this happens all of the time.  Having a science teacher, too, that takes time on a day off to respond and share enthusiasm for learning outside of the curriculum is also significant.  Does my child feel as though he can go to any of his teachers with an outside interest and they will be engaged?  Absolutely.  That he made me take a photo of a painting we saw in a museum and email it to his art teacher or that his English teacher took the time to read his 22-page story on WWII (that he wrote on his own) is testament.
     Secondly, the ability for a child to be able to search out his own answers is also key.  In this case he had the tools and know-how to do an appropriate search on the internet and to be able to email his teacher from his school email account with a photo in order to receive feedback.  It's not that kids need to know everything, but they do need to know how to go about finding information.
   Valuing the learning that takes place outside of the classroom is critical for children to be able to grow up to be life-long learners.
     While slime-molds are not a part of the written curriculum, but fostering innate curiosity and creativity absolutely is.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Good Sports, The Concerned Parent’s Guide to Competitive Youth Sports

            Rick Wolff is an expert on sports psychology and the author of Good Sports, The Concerned Parent’s Guide to Competitive Youth Sports.  As part of an advertising section in Sports Illustrated, Wolff often writes a weekly column that addresses issues pertaining to youth sports. 
            One column addressed the notion of sportsmanship, particularly as it pertains to one team running up the score on another team.  According to Bob Joyce of Kingswood, Texas, the ‘win at all costs’ mentality is the most pressing part of poor sportsmanship these days.  As a coach, there are always ways to be sure this doesn’t happen.  A large lead is the prime opportunity to get some of the non-starting players in the game. Telling the players that they each need to touch the ball before they shoot can also slow a game down.  As a parent, supporting this policy helps a coach explain to his starters why they may have only played the first half against a very weak team.   It’s important to remember, as Wolff states, ‘that sportsmanship is one of the few things we can actually control during a youth league game.’  Another component of sportsmanship relates more to being sure that each of the players gets their fair share of playing time.
            At Harding, the coaches support the values of sportsmanship and equity in several ways. More than one middle school coach elects captains weekly, based on the week’s effort, rather than once at the beginning of the season when an election may be a popularity contest.  The coaches also support the notion that academics come first by adhering to a playing policy relative to students’ academic work.  Coaches make an effort to recognize the efforts of different athletes weekly during Monday Assembly.   
            Harding supports the WNSL in order to allow some of the younger students to have an organized athletic experience at an earlier age.  We also have different levels in all sports to allow athletes to develop at their own pace, on a team that is developmentally appropriate for them.   
            Another of Dr. Wolff’s columns discussed the different reasons why children play sports.  Wolff relates a story in which he asked a nine-year-old boy, who was coming off the tennis court, what other sports he enjoyed.  He answered, “I play tennis and work real hard at it, but I also play basketball and baseball and I snowboard.  But those sports, “he continued, “well, I play those just for fun.”  Wolff noted that, “As our children take up competitive sports at early ages, and then become fully immersed with travel, select, elite or premier squads, we really shouldn’t be surprised when a youngster begins to differentiate between playing one sport ‘for fun’ and another ‘because I’m supposed to work at it.”  With this in mind, it’s easy to see why some players either drop two of the three sports they are playing to concentrate solely on one or withdraw from athletics altogether by the time they are in high school.
            Keeping perspective and remembering the goals of a sport is worthwhile, particularly as we realize the small numbers of high school athletes who play a sport in college and the minuscule numbers of these athletes who go on to play professional athletics.  It is also important to bear in mind the qualities that attracted a student to a sport in the first place and reemphasize these regularly.  Most players began playing for the camaraderie of being on a team and for the inherent fun involved in sports.  Improving skills is also an important factor, and it’s important to point out these improvements to players, as they often do not see their improvements.  Winning, obviously, is also an enjoyable aspect of sports.   As long as it’s kept in perspective and players can still feel positive about themselves after a loss when they have played well, winning is an important goal.